Feb. 12, 2011
By Gregg Bell SEATTLE -
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -No wonder Isaiah Thomas needed ice.
The Huskies' star went scoreless for the first 17:22 of Saturday night's game against Stanford. He got poked in the eye in the process, requiring an ice pack and a 4-minute hiatus in a tunnel away from the court. And then Stanford starting talking smack to the brash junior. Hot? Thomas was searing.
"They made me mad," he said. "They were just talking a little bit and I just felt like I had to turn it up to end the half. ... I said, "This is our house. No one is coming in here and getting easy wins or thinking they can come in here and win easily.'"
The candidate for national point guard and player of the year returned from the pokes to scorch the Cardinal - and the walls of Alaska Airlines Arena - with 14 points in the final 2:38 of the first half. That turned a close game into a rout, and Washington cruised from there to an 87-76 victory that keeps UW in close range of Arizona for the Pac-10 lead.
"You can see how he scored 50 points on many occasions (at Curtis High School in University Place, Wash.)," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Everyone knows he can drive. But when he is getting teammates involved and he's hitting his jumper, he's really tough cover."
Romar was less than thrilled with the way his Huskies (17-7, 9-4 Pac-10) eased up in the second half, calling it "frustrating." Yet the coach was pleased with how this night, which avenged UW's 58-56 loss at Stanford last month, plus Thursday's 109-77 blitzing of California have chased away the foul taste of last week's three-game losing streak - and moved the Huskies within a game of idle Arizona atop the league.
The Wildcats (20-4, 9-2) next play at Arizona State (9-14, 1-10) Sunday night. Washington is at ASU Thursday and at Arizona next Saturday.
"We have made huge progress from how we have been playing the last couple of weeks. So, I am excited about that," Romar said. "Now it's time to move on and try this road again."
Thomas was so good he didn't even need to fully see where he was shooting. He ran a couple of possessions essentially blinded in his left eye following the inadvertent poke from colliding with teammate Darnell Gant. Thomas then had some double vision and got ice. And his four 3-pointers in that scintillating 2:38 before halftime came while the floor was dimly lit because a campus power surge had knocked out some arena lights. Both coaches had agreed to continue play with some lights still off.
His four 3-pointers in the lightning-like span were more than Thomas has made in 19 full games this season. By the time he made the fourth, a 23-footer from beyond the top of the key just before the halftime buzzer, Romar had stopped calling plays.
"I just said, 'Let's see what he has up his sleeve,'" Romar said staying silent for the half's final possession.
After Thomas swished that one, too, he pumped his right fist and yelled to the roaring, adorning crowd.
"He's one of the best players in the conference, but also in the country," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "You're not really going to stop Isaiah. You have to try to contain him as best you can."
Asked if he can remember scoring so many points so quickly, the former state high school player of the year and state tournament record breaker for points just about scoffed.
"High school, man," Thomas said.
But the most encouraging aspect for the Huskies, who extended its school-record streak of home wins by 10 or more points to 14 games? Previously minimal role players Venoy Overton and C.J. Wilcox were huge contributors. And the Dawgs finally began finding 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye inside as a second scoring option with Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who had 13 points and six rebounds.
N'Diaye added nine points - his most since Dec. 22 against Nevada -- while making all four of his field goals, and would have had far bigger night had he made more than one of five free throws. The sophomore junior-college transfer added six rebounds.
Wilcox, who was set back last month by a staph infection, scored 10 points and played tight defense on the wing, joining the week's emphasis on man-to-man defense everywhere. The redshirt freshman who was a hot sharpshooter before his freak infection from getting a brush burn diving on the floor had his second consecutive game of double-figures scoring.
Overton added a season-high 14 points, a team-best four assists and tenacious play at both ends. He looked more like he did last season, when he was one of the most reviled - and feared - defenders in the league.
Asked if the role players rising feels overdue, Romar said without hesitating, "Absolutely."
The coach is hoping all his varying substitutions and rotations early in the season is giving Overton, Wilcox, Scott Suggs and freshman Terrence Ross - who had two monster slams - equal belief they can contribute in a huge way at the end of the season.
Jeremy Green's 24 points kept Stanford (13-11, 6-7) from getting completely blown away. The Cardinal gave up the most points it had all season - after holding Washington to a season-low in scoring last month in California.
The Huskies went into cruise and maintain mode following Thomas' astounding breakout to end the half. About the only Husky who didn't let up was Overton, who had his best night of an injury plagued and distracted season. He had a hamstring strain for two months and is just now getting past a hyper-extended knee.
Thomas was 0-4 - all the misses from 3-point range - and went to the bench from the 12-minute mark of the opening half until 8 minutes remained. Overton aggressively ran the point while Thomas was getting ice on his left eye, scoring eight points and showing more determination on offense and defense than the senior has all season.
"It was tough. We were depending just on Isaiah, Matt and (Justin) Holiday to score points, and when they didn't score points we'd lose," Overton said. "Coach finally got mad and said, 'We're going to pressure up (on defense). "I was waiting for that day."
It came in practice this week. Overton took it as a green light for his season, which is essentially just beginning. He may now be the freshest and potentially most dangerous man of UW's bench -- just in time for the crux of the season.
"The Oregon game (last weekend) I thought he got his edge back. That's what it is with him, to have that pit-bull mentality," Romar said. "It was really good to see guys pick it up. Our bench was maybe the MVPs of this game."